From Keystone to Paris: Top 10 energy stories of 2015
A lot can change in a year.
When 2015 got underway, the U.S. solar industry thought the sky was falling. Debating the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline was all the rage. California’s clean energy mandate was just 33 percent, and affordable home batteries were a glint in Elon Musk’s eye.
Now, solar-industry officials are breathing a sigh of relief, buoyed by victories in Congress and California. Keystone is dead. California has a 50 percent clean energy mandate, and Tesla has “disrupted” the world of energy storage.
Here’s a breakdown of the year’s top energy stories, from California’s rooftop solar battles to the Paris climate deal reached by 195 nations in December.
10. California raises electricity rates
For years, California utilities wanted to raise rates for homes that use the least energy and lower rates for homes that use the most. Low-usage customers, they said, weren’t paying their fair share. That argument outraged ratepayer watchdogs and solar advocates, who called the utilities’ plans a giveaway to the wealthy and said they would discourage people from saving energy and going solar.
The fierce battle came to a decisive end over the summer, when the California Public Utilities Commission voted unanimously to give Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric most of what they wanted. Further angering the utilities’ opponents, the commission held its vote on Friday, July 3, a federal holiday. The dramatic rate changes began to take effect in October, and will continue to be phased in over the next four years.
9. World’s largest solar farm opens
The eyes of the clean-energy universe turned to the California desert in February, when the world’s largest solar farm opened in Riverside County, about an hour’s drive east of the Coachella Valley. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stopped by to mark the occasion, lauding the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight plant as a shining example of the success of federal loan guarantees for clean energy projects. The solar farm, which was built by Arizona-based First Solar, received a loan guarantee of nearly $1.5 billion.
Desert Sunlight’s record didn’t last long: Less than six months later, the 579-megawatt Solar Star project opened for business in the Antelope Valley, about two-and-a-half hours northeast of the Coachella Valley.